If now, leaving the egregious Aretino to a later chapter, we move out of Venice to her northern and western dependencies, we shall find there too some radiance of the Golden Age. Treviso could boast that it had begotten Lorenzo Lotto and Paris Bordone; and its cathedral had an Annunciation by Titian and a fine choir designed by the innumerable Lombardi. The little town of Pordenone gave its name to Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchi, and still shows in its duomo one of his chefs-d’oeuvre, a Madonna with Saints and Donor.Giovanni was a man of buoyant energy and self-confidence, ready of wit and sword, willing to undertake anything anywhere. We find him painting in Udine, Spilimbergo, Treviso, Vicenza, Ferrara, Mantua, Cremona, Piacenza, Genoa, Venice, forming his style on Giorgione’s landscapes, Titian’s architectural backgrounds, and Michelangelo’s muscles. He gladly accepted an invitation to Venice (1527), anxious to pit his brush against Titian’s; his St. Martin and St. Christopher, painted for the church of San Rocco, achieved an almost sculptural effect by modeling with light and shade; Venice hailed him as a worthy rival of Titian. Pordenone resumed his travels, married thrice, was suspected of killing his brother, was knighted by King John of Hungary (who had never seen any of his pictures), and returned to Venice (1533) to resume his duel with Titian. Hoping to prod Titian on to finishing his battle picture in the Ducal Palace, the Signory engaged Pordenone to do a panel on the opposite wall. The competition between Leonardo and Michelangelo was here repeated (1538), with a dramatic supplement: Pordenone wore a sword at his belt. His canvas—splendid in color, too violent in action—was adjudged second best, and Pordenone moved on to Ferrara to design some tapestries for Ercole II. Two weeks after arrival he died. His friends said it was poisoning; his enemies said it was time.
Vicenza too had heroes. Bartolommeo Montagna founded a school of painting rich in middling Madonnas. Montagna’s best is the Madonna En throned in the Brera; it cleaves safely to Antonello’s model of two saints on the right, two on the left, and angels making music at the Virgin’s feet; but these angels deserve their name, and the Virgin, with comely features and graceful robe, is one of the finest figures in the crowded gallery of Renaissance Madonnas. Vicenza’s heyday, however, awaited Palladio.
Verona, after a proud history of fifteen hundred years, became a Venetian dependency in 1404, and remained so till 1796. Nevertheless she had a healthy cultural life of her own. Her painters fell behind those of Venice, but her architects, sculptors, and woodworkers were not surpassed in the “Most Serene” capital. The fourteenth-century tombs of the Scaligers, though too ornate, suggest no lack of sculptors; and the equestrian statue of Can Grande della Scala, with the flowing caparison of the horse so vividly portraying motion, falls short only of the masterpieces of Donatello and Verrocchio. The most sought-for wood carver in Italy was Fra Giovanni da Verona. He worked in many cities, but he devoted a large part of his life to carving and inlaying the choir stalls of Santa Maria in Organo in his native city.
The great name in Veronese architecture was “that rare and universal genius” (Vasari calls him), Fra Giocondo. Hellenist, botanist, antiquarian, philosopher, and theologian, this remarkable Dominican friar was also one of the leading architects and engineers of his time. He taught Latin and Greek to the famous scholar Julius Caesar Scaliger, who practised medicine in Verona before moving to France. Fra Giocondo copied the inscriptions on the classic remains in Rome, and presented a book on the subject to Lorenzo de’ Medici. His researches led to the discovery of the greater part of Pliny’s letters in an old collection in Paris. While in that city he built two bridges over the Seine. When the detritus of the River Brenta threatened to fill up the lagoons that made Venice possible, Fra Giocondo persuaded the Signory to order, at great cost, the diversion of the river to empty farther south; but for this procedure Venice would not be today a miracle of liquid streets; hence Luigi Cornaro called Giocondo the second founder of the city. In Verona his masterpiece is the Palazzo del Consiglio, a simple Romanesque loggia surmounted by an elegant cornice, and crowned with statues of Cornelius Nepos, Catullus, Vitruvius, Pliny the Younger, and Emilius Macer—all ancient gentlemen of Verona. In Rome Giocondo was made architect of St. Peter’s with Raphael and Giuliano da Sangallo, but died in that year (1514), aged eighty-one. It was a well-spent life.
Giocondo’s work on the ruins of Rome excited another Veronese architect. Giovanmaria Falconetto, after drawing all the antiquities of his own locality, marched off to Rome to do the same thing there, and devoted twelve years, on and off, to the task. Returning to Verona, he took the losing side in politics, and had to move to Padua. There Bembo and Cornaro encouraged him in the application of classical design to architecture; and the generous centenarian housed, fed, financed, and loved Giovanmaria to the end of the artist’s seventy-six years. Falconetto designed a loggia for Cornaro’s palace in Padua, two of that city’s gates, and the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Giocondo, Falconetto, and Sanmicheli constituted a trio of architects rivaled only in Rome.
Michele Sanmicheli gave himself chiefly to fortification. Son and nephew of Veronese architects, he went to Rome at sixteen, and carefully measured the ancient buildings. After making a name for himself in designing churches and palaces, he was sent by Clement VII to build defenses for Parma and Piacenza. The distinguishing feature of his military architecture was the pentagonal bastion, from whose projecting balcony guns could be fired in five directions. When he examined the fortifications of Venice he was arrested as a spy; but his examiners were so impressed by his knowledge that the Signory engaged him to construct fortresses in Verona, Brescia, Zara, Corfu, Cyprus, and Crete. Back in Venice, he built a massive fort on the Lido. In preparing for the foundations he soon struck water. Following the example of Fra Giocondo, he sank a double cordon of connected piles, pumped the water from between the two circles, and set the foundations in this dry ring. It was a hazardous undertaking, whose success was in doubt to the last minute. Critics predicted that when heavy artillery should be fired from this fort the structure would shake itself loose from its foundations and collapse. The Signory placed in it the stoutest cannon in Venice, and ordered them all fired at once. Pregnant women fled from the neighborhood to avoid premature deliveries. The cannon were fired, the fort stood firm, the mothers returned, and Sanmicheli was the toast of Venice.
In Verona he designed two majestic city gates, adorned with Doric columns and cornices; Vasari ranked these structures, architecturally, with the Roman theater and amphitheater that had survived in Verona from Roman days. He built the Palazzo Bevilacqua there, and the Grimani and Mocenigo palaces; he reared a campanile for the cathedral, and a dome for San Giorgio Maggiore. His friend Vasari tells us that though Michele in youth had indulged in some moderate adultery, he became in later life a model Christian, taking no thought for material gains, and treating all men with kindness and courtesy. He bequeathed his skills to Iacopo Sansovino and a nephew whom he loved exceedingly. When news came to him that this nephew had fallen in Cyprus while fighting for Venice against the Turks, Sanmicheli developed a fever, and died in a few days, aged seventy-three (1559).
To Verona belonged the finest medalist of the Renaissance, perhaps of all time.51 Antonio Pisano, known to history as Pisanello, always signed himself Pictor, and thought of himself as a painter. Half a dozen of his paintings survive, and they are of excellent quality;* but it is not these that have sustained his name through the centuries. Recapturing the skill and compact realism of Greek and Roman coin designs, Pisanello molded little circular reliefs, seldom more than two inches in diameter, combining finesse of workmanship with such fidelity to truth that his medallions are the most trustworthy representations we have of several Renaissance notables. These are not profound works; they have no philosophical overtones; but they are treasures of painstaking workmanship and historical illumination.
Excepting Pisanello and the Carotos, Verona, in painting, remained medieval. After the fall of the Scaligers it subsided quietly into a secondary role. It was not, like Venice, a Rialto where merchants from a dozen lands rubbed elbows and faiths and wore out one another’s dogmas with mutual attrition. It was not, like Lodovico’s Milan, a political power, nor like Florence a focus of finance, nor like Rome an international house. It was not so close to the Orient, nor so captivated by humanism, as to tincture its Christianity with paganism; it continued content with medieval themes, and rarely reflected in its art the sensuous zest that evoked the nudes of Giorgione and Titian, Correggio and Raphael. In a later period one of its sons, who indeed is known by its name, entered gaily into the pagan mood; but Paolo Veronese became in life a Venetian rather than a Veronese. Verona was becalmed.
In the fourteenth century its painters were still abreast of their times; note how Padua called one of them—Altichiero da Zevio—to decorate the chapel of San Giorgio. Toward the end of that century Stefano da Zevio went to Florence and learned the Giottesque tradition from Agnolo Gaddi; returning to Verona he painted frescoes that Donatello pronounced the best yet done in those parts. His pupil Domenico Morone advanced upon him by studying the works of Pisanello and the Bellini; the Defeat of the Buonacolsi, in the Castello at Mantua, emulates the multitudinous panoramas of Gentile. Domenico’s son Francesco, by his murals, helped Fra Giovanni’s woodwork to make the sacristy of Santa Maria in Organo one of the treasure rooms of Italy. Domenico’s pupil Girolamo dai Libri, at the age of sixteen (1490), painted in the same favorite church an altarpiece—Deposition from the Cross— “which when uncovered,” reports Vasari, “excited such wonder that the whole city ran to congratulate the artist’s father”;52 its landscape was one of the best in fifteenth-century art. In another of Girolamo’s pictures (New York) a tree was so realistically portrayed that—on the word of a holy Dominican—birds tried to perch on its branches; and the grave Vasari himself avers that in a Nativity that Girolamo painted for Santa Maria in Organo you might count the hairs on the rabbits.53 Girolamo’s father had received the name dai Libri from his skill in illuminating manuscripts; the son carried on the art, and came to excel in it all other miniaturists in Italy.
About 1462 Iacopo Bellini painted in Verona. One of the boys who served him was Liberale, who later received the name of his city; through this Liberale da Verona a touch of Venetian color and vitality entered Veronese painting. Liberale, like Girolamo, found that he prospered best by illuminating manuscripts; he earned 800 crowns ($20,000?) in Siena by his miniatures. Badly treated in his old age by his married daughter, he bequeathed his estate to his pupil Francesco Torbido, went to live with him, and died at the reasonable age of eighty-five (1536). Torbido studied also with Giorgione, and improved upon Liberale, who forgave him. Another of Liberale’s pupils, Giovanfrancesco Caroto, was strongly influenced by Mantegna’s masterly polyptych in San Zeno. He went to Mantua to study with the old master, and made such progress that Mantegna sent out Caroto’s work as his own. Giovanfrancesco made excellent portraits of Guidobaldo and Elisabetta, Duke and Duchess of Urbino. He returned to Verona a rich man, who could afford, now and then, to speak his mind. When a priest accused him of making lascivious figures, he asked, “If painted figures move you so, how can you be trusted with flesh and blood?”54 He was among the few Veronese painters who wandered from religious themes.
If to these men we add Francesco Bonsignori, Paolo Morando, called Cavazzolo, Domenico Brusasorci, and Giovanni Caroto (Giovanfrancesco’s younger brother), the roster of Veronese painters in the Renaissance is relatively complete. They were almost all good men; Vasari has a moral pat on the back for nearly every one of them; their lives were orderly for artists, and their work had a placid and wholesome beauty that reflected their natures and their environment. Verona sang a pious and tranquil minor chord in the song of the Renaissance.